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The Dictator, The Revolution, The Machine

A Political Account of Joseph Stalin

Tony McKenna is a writer whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, ABC Australia, The United Nations, New Statesman, The Progressive, New Internationalist and New Humanist. His first book, Art, Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective, was published by Macmillan in 2015.

It is a commonplace wisdom that from the authoritarian roots of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 grew the gulags and the police state of the Stalinist epoch. The Dictator, the Revolution, The Machine overturns that perspective once and for all by showing how October was inspired by a profound mass movement comprised of urban workers and rural poor – a movement that went on to forge a state capable of channelling its political will in and through the most overwhelming form of grass-roots democracy history has ever known.

It was a single, precarious experiment whose life was tragically brief. In a context of civil war and foreign invasion the fledgling democracy was eradicated and the Bolshevik party was denuded of its social basis – the working classes. While the party survived, its centrist elements came to the fore as the power of the bureaucracy asserted itself. From the ashes of human freedom there arose a zombified, sclerotic administration in which state functionaries took precedence over elected representatives. One man came to embody the inverted logic of this bureaucratic machine, its remorseless brutality and its parasitic drive for power. Joseph Stalin was its highest expression, accruing to himself state powers as he made his murderous, heady rise to dictator. This book examines his historical profile, its roots in Georgian medievalism, and shows why Stalin was destined to play the role he did. In broader strokes Tony McKenna raises the conflict between the revolutionary movement and the bureaucracy to the level of a literary tragedy played out on the stage of world history, showing how Stalinism’s victory would pave the way for the ‘Midnight of the Century’

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-826-8
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2016
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



A Political Account of Joseph Stalin



In this brilliant, moving and inspiring book, Tony McKenna provides a compelling analysis and portrayal of the historical causes of the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s psychological development into a monstrous murderer of millions, and the gritty fearful realities of the lives his regime extinguished. But the book also shows that the Russian experience doesn’t seal the fate of humankind with respect to the prospects for the creation of a genuinely democratic socialist world. It concludes by affirming the desirability and feasibility of working-class self-emancipation and socialist participatory democracy.
... By fully confronting the horrors of Stalinist dictatorship while providing a sophisticated account of the historically unique combination of factors that give rise to and sustained it, the book affirms the continuing vitality and relevance of revolutionary Marxism. Beautifully written in a fast-paced style, this magnificent book is difficult to put down once you have started reading it. Utterly compelling, a must read.
Brian S. Roper, Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Otago. Author of The History of Democracy – A Marxist Interpretation

Studies of the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia often treat the social forces and human actors involved in a depersonalised way, while Marxist biographies of Stalin himself, notably those by Deutscher, Souvarine and Trotsky, are few and were mainly written while the dictator was still alive. Tony McKenna’s outstanding new book successfully bridges this divide by showing how Stalin – both as distinct personality and characteristic social type – was able to act as the embodiment of the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy. Written in compelling, non-sectarian style, McKenna’s study not only illuminates the historical period of which he writes but, against all attempts to claim continuity between the October Revolution and its Stalinist nemesis, powerfully reasserts its original liberatory impulses and argues for their continued relevance for the left today.
Neil Davidson, lecturer of Sociology at the University of Glasgow. Author of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000), Discovering the Scottish Revolution (2003), for which he was awarded the Deutscher Memorial Prize, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (2012), Holding Fast to an Image of the Past (2014) and We Cannot Escape History (2015)

Tony McKenna is a bona fide public intellectual who contributes to Marxist journals without having any connections to academia or to the disorganized left. This gives his writing a freshness both in terms of political insight and literary panache.
... Although I think that McKenna would be capable of turning a Unix instruction manual into compelling prose, the dead tyrant has spurred him to reach a higher level ... his study is both an excellent introduction to Stalin and Stalinism as well as one that gives any veteran radical well-acquainted with Soviet history some food for thought on the quandaries facing the left today. Drawing upon fifty or so books, including a number that leftist veterans would likely not be familiar with such as leading Soviet military leader Gregory Zhukov’s memoir, McKenna synthesizes it all into a highly readable and often dramatic whole with his own unique voice. It is a model of historiography and one that might be read for no other reason except learning how to write well.
Louis Proyect, writer and activist, proprietor of The Unrepentant Marxist blog and moderator of

McKenna presents a biography of Joseph Stalin, beginning with his school years, through the revolution and his brutal rise to power, and ending at his death. Through numerous source material, the reader sees an insider's view of Stalin's life; the text includes quotes from supplicants and those who worked closely in Stalin's regime. The biography ends with a conclusion linking the actions of Stalin's time with the consequences we see today in places such as Greece, Britain, and Russia. The text is a thoughtful study of capitalism, government, and the reverberations of a ruthless leader.

Was Stalin’s hold on these reins of power inevitable? ... The Dictator, The Revolution, The Machine is a passionate intervention into debates on these issues. The description of the full “shadow of totalitarianism”, Stalin’s 1930s Great Terror, and a thorough, searing, look at the Gulag, is outstanding. McKenna’s concluding hopes for a direct ‘utopian’ democracy that takes collective control of a socialised economy takes inspiration from the best side of the Soviet ideal. Andrew Coates, writer and activist, proprietor of the critical Marxist blog - Tendance Coatesy.

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